In my frustrations about how technology has consumed my time and my mental energy, I have often thought that I wish I could live more simply. I define that to mean less time surfing the internet and less time swiping around a tablet or phone. More time reading and writing, more space to be in silence and think. I got rid of my smart phone so I wouldn’t be distracted by something in my pocket all the time (only for that to be replaced by a tablet I keep in my slightly-bigger back pocket). I have tried to limit computer time where I can. Spend a concerted effort reading on paper or my Kindle.
But maybe living simply isn’t so simple.
In Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Carr argues that our brain is highly adaptable to our surroundings and the technology we use. This adaptability is called neuroplasticity, where our brains will rewire neurons to accommodate the stimulus it receives. But instead of merely lamenting how sad it is that computers and the internet have made us distracted and unable to focus (and this was written before the widespread use of cell phones), he goes back in time to explain how all technological progress has affected our brains. Plato thought books would decrease the need for memorization. Clocks changed how we perceive time. When the movable type printing press mass-produced books, many projected it would be the downfall of civilized thought. A play from 1612 by Lope de Vega entitled All Citizens Are Soldiers said:
So many books—so much confusion!
All around us an ocean of print
And most of it covered in froth.
In other words, the very “simple life” I desire is was not always considered simple. It’s only simple to me now.
I don’t want to be a Luddite and complain about the profound, unprecedented technology we have. It is amazing! Yet, I can’t help but feel that this time is different. The internet, with our phones included, makes us more distracted. It hampers our ability to think clearly and for any sustained amount of time. We are inundated with information—the vastness of human knowledge is at our fingertips—and we’ve never been more unsatisfied.
So I will try to read more books. Maybe it is my idealized version of what I should do, but it seems best to me. I encourage you to shut your browser down and pick up a book. Maybe my book, maybe The Shallows. But go read. Your brain will love you for it (I think).
In honor of The Shallows, I have included no hyperlinks in this blog post. Hyperlinks prevent the sustained thinking reading helps cultivate. So here are a few links and references for further reading/watching:
What I’m reading now: